Aside from turning into what seemed like a bit of a she-said-we-said argy-bargy-Saga-drama, the Claire Balding copy approval episode gives anyone who is likely to do print media interviews some very useful insight.
(Incidentally, Saga Magazine said it did not give copy approval; instead “quotes were checked for accuracy alone”.)
So that’s all good, as they say in W1A.
Copy approval boils down to being allowed to see a draft of an article – and the right to ask for alterations – before it goes to print.
Interviewees like it; journalists hate it.
So, as one of the latter, here are some answers to questions that the confused former might have, especially in the wake of the Balding bust-up:
- Should I ask for copy approval? No, not unless you want to risk looking defensive. Print interviews can be very tricky, even when you don’t expect them to be, but that’s why you’re better off having media training that specifically covers how to handle the unique demands of a print interview. They’re very different to broadcast interviews.
- What, never ever ask?! Well, maybe if you know a particular journalist has a habit of misquoting you, or takes remarks out of context, but then that might be one those rare occasions when it’s better to decline the interview in the first place. Also, you might try asking to see it when the article is very technical, or could contain material that might be out of date by the time it goes to press.
- Is there a right (or wrong) way to ask for copy approval? If you ask aggressively, e.g. “You’ll make sure I absolutely get to see that before it goes to press, WON”T YOU?!”, you’ll just make the reporter wonder why you’re being so tetchy. But if you offer, in a spirit of helpfulness, to just “cast an eye over it if you like, in case anything needs updating etc…,” you’ll stand a better chance of seeing it. (But probably only a rookie reporter will fall for that line.)
- Is there a right time to ask for copy approval? It’s much better to ask at the start – if it’s declined, but still matters that much, you can pull out of the interview. If you ask at the end, it could be too late – you’ve already given the interview.
Of course the Balding Saga was also a useful reminder that in a print interview, it’s the journalist (or editor) who chooses which quotes to use, not the interviewee. As an interviewee, if you want complete control over your quote, do a live broadcast interview – what you say is what goes out.
But, let’s face it, most people, if given the choice, would probably opt to do a national newspaper interview over a live TV interview that’s being beamed to the nation or beyond.
Big mistake. A print interview can contain a whole host of traps and obstacles that simply don’t exist in broadcast. For example, did you hear the one about the newspaper journalist, who popped to the loo halfway through interviewing a celebrity and “accidentally” left her recording device on the table, which picked up the celeb telling their PR person, “Thank goodness she didn’t ask me about…”. That’s how an entire print article can sometimes be based on just one quote – quite possibly the final words the interviewee utters during the interview, rather than the 1,000 or so words that preceded them.
Finally, here’s another reason why print interview training is crucial for interviewees: how many times have you heard someone being interviewed on TV or radio? Hundreds, if not thousands, probably. So, although answering competently in a broadcast interview is still a real skill, at least you know what a TV or radio interview sounds like.
But unless you’ve been interviewed by a print journalist, how can you possibly know how they sound, their unique style, how they structure the interview, how they phrase potentially very tricky questions? A print journalist sounds nothing like a broadcast journalist and a print interview sounds nothing like a broadcast interview.
I think Claire Balding would agree with me on that.